Russia scholar Paul Goble, formerly with the U.S. State Department, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and the CIA, is currently director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He blogs at Windows on Eurasia.
An expert on Russia’s race issues, he recently reported the stunning statistic, revealed by the Russian radio network Echo of Moscow, that one in four residents of Moscow are illegal immigrants according to the chairman of the city’s legislative assembly Vladimir Platonov. At the same time, Platonov confessed to a total failure of his government to collect and manage data concerning this crisis, implying it could be even worse than he thinks. St. Petersburg, Goble says, has a problem that may be even worse.
The term “illegal immigrant” is a complex one where Moscow is concerned, because it can apply to people who have every legal right to be in Russia. Even though it violates the Russian constitution to do so, the capital city still maintains what Russians call a “propiska” system, meaning that you need the city’s written permission to move there even if you are a native-born Russian citizen. Russian law enforcement actually welcomes the violation of the registration requirement, much in the same way that credit card companies are delighted if you don’t pay your balance in full each month. This gives beat cops the chance to stop people on the street at random, card them, and demand bribes if there is no registration. These are the “illegals” that Platonov is talking about.
The city recently tried an amnesty program to draw them out of the shadows. It was a dismal failure. It seems local employers are delighted to help keep their illegal employees in the shadows, since their status induces them to accept minimal wages (in a country where the average wage paid to a legal worker is only $4/hour, you can imagine the results).
Predictably, since many of these “illegals” have swarthy complexions, this situation feeds into the problem of Russia’s infamous xenophobia and racism, which is very much a top-down affair. Back in 1993, for instance, as the war in Chechnya was blazing, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov issued a directive to expel all persons of “Caucasian nationality” from the city. Pointing to another EOM broadcast, this time involving Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Russia’s firebrand newspaper Novaya Gazeta (the murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya wrote for it), Goble notes that over the last three months Russian racists have killed 38 people and wounded 113 more, and they have advertised what they have done in order to scare some and recruit others.” Muratov says that an open “recruitment campaign for a fascist army” is underway in his country, and decries the total lack of intervention by Russia’s security forces. “Where is the FSB?” he plaintively wonders.
Muratov appeared on the EOM program to warn that aggressive efforts were now underway to intimidate journalists from reporting on the atrocities. Goble reports:
After his paper carried an article at the end of last month on skinhead attacks, its author, journalist Valery Shiryayev, received a series of threats. Listen, he was told, “you are a puppet,” working for other unspecified forces. “You do not deserve to live,” the hate messages continued. “Death to the kikes, glory to Russia. Russia for the Russians. Success to all who struggle. Zieg Heil!” Muratov said that his newspaper had reported all this to the authorities, including the FSB, which has primary responsibility for responding to such attacks.
It’s an incendiary situation. Russia’s white-skinned, Slavic population is an ailing one, with an average male lifespan below 60 (Russia is ranks outside the top 100 world nations in this category), and its dark-skinned population is rising. PJ Media has previously reported the demographic statistics on Russia’s “Islamic Bombski.”
In the radio interview, Muratov was asked why he did not flee the country and seek asylum in the West, as Kremlin reporter Yelena Tregubova has recently done, finding safe haven in Britain after an onslaught of Kremlin threats. He gave a one-word reply: “Impossible.” Goble concludes: “While Tregubova’s desire for asylum is completely understandable given the nature of the Putin regime, Muratov’s continuing effort to combat this rising tide of fascism in the Russian Federation is not only noble but calls out for the kind of support from the West that he and others like him often do not get.”
Truer words were never spoken. PJ Media has previously reported on the trials of youth activist Oleg Kozlovsky, illegally drafted into the Russian Army to silence his criticism of the Kremlin. But no sooner did Kozlovsky win his freedom than he was faced with a concerted effort to evict his organization from its headquarters and the mainstream media, of which only the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune reported on the conscription, have ignored his plight.
Kozlovsky was holding his meetings in a private apartment he rented for the purpose. What would it take to give him the ability to rent a real office suite in a secure building? A few thousand dollars a month? Would it require some Herculean sacrifice for Muratov to regularly appear on the op-ed pages of our major newspapers, and for them to report the news his reporters risk their lives to generate? He’s trying to launch an English-language website, but for that he needs a cadre of skilled translators. They’re hard to find in Russia and expensive, so right now the linguistic quality is poor. What would it cost us to provide them to him? A few thousand dollars more?
If we’re not prepared to shell out pocket change to support people who are risking it all to create a Russia that won’t threaten us, we should expect to see history repeat itself where Russia is concerned.
Kim Zigfeld is a New York City-based writer who blogs at the PJ Media Network blog Publius Pundit and publishes her own Russia specialty blog, La Russophobe. She also writes for Russia! magazine and is researching a book on the rise of dictatorship in Putin’s Russia.